Travellers' Impressions
Stories & Articles from around the World

by Jonas Persson

Another weekend, another adventure (this should be our motto!). This episode takes place in Pilanesburg, located about 150 km from Johannesburg. Pilanesburg is a game park, as in a park where you can spot game. At first I didn’t really understand what the word “game” really meant, and I got it explained to me as “wildlife”. “Oh-“, I said, “Why not call it a wildlife park? I thought ‘game’ was more like a term for the pursued animals in a hunt.” Sadly, my suspicions were confirmed, a game park was originally, and still is, a park where you can hunt and kill animals- and there’s big bucks involved. Apparently, South Africa’s main tourism income come from the rich few, often Americans or Europeans, that can afford to kill some of the most endangered animals in the world. The hunter supplies income for hotel staff, rifle carriers, animal trackers, drivers, restaurant staff and other service personal, but above all, he will pay vast amounts in cash for his prey. Perhaps hunter is an incorrect term, though. Sometimes “hunting” means sticking the barrel of the rifle through a hole in a box and pulling the trigger to kill a lion. This is common enough to have a special term: canned-lion-hunting (like canned soup- just pop the top). Of course, once back in his home country, the proud master shooter can show off his trophy to friends and business associates. It’s a despicable industry; however, I doubt that there would be any wildlife at all in South Africa if it weren’t for the financial interests in preserving the animals for tourism (hunters and those there to just gape at the animals as well). As far as Pilanesburg, I must confess my ignorance whether they conduct hunts or not there. I sure didn’t see any signs of hunting, but wouldn’t be surprised if there were.

All this aside, Pilanesburg was a mighty experience. Our little group of four, leaving the Johannesburg Zoo Friday afternoon, consisted of Dorcas, a South African working at the hospital, Jean-Marie, an American working at the hospital, Katie and myself. From 6 A.M., as the park gates opened, until 6 P.M., as the gates closed, we were all happily crammed into Jean-Marie’s car and began enthusiastically spotting wild animals through the window with ready binoculars. To mention a few, we saw Wildebeest, Zebra, Rhino, Hippo, Red Hartebeest, Kudu, Springbok, Impala, Tsessibee, Sable Antelope, Stenbok, Waterbok, Elephant, Jackal, Warthog, Giraffe, and a whole lot of birds. Most exciting was the Elephants. After driving around most all Sunday morning, our endurance finally paid off as a whole herd (we counted 16 in total) came down to a creek to have a drink. Dorcas’ superior eyesight (I’ve never met any one with sharper eyes than Dorcas) had spotted them far off on a hillside, and from there we followed them down to the water to get first class viewing seats. With the car parked on the little bridge, we had no need for the cameras 3xzoom.

Shortly after the Elephant sighting, our car broke down, and we were left stranded on a dusty gravel road with high grass on both sides and a hot burning sun heating up the car to temperatures exceeding my pleasure zone. Being trapped in the car made me realize that Pilanesburg is just another version of a zoo, using only two cages. An outer electric fence of the 500 sq-km park keeps the animals inside the park area, and the car protects visitors and animals from each other. It is refreshing that, for once, it is the animals that have the largest space. Needless to say, it is a very bad idea for the visitor to leave its cage, since the car is its only protection. Our ears were pricked for any noise in the tall grass... or lack of noise. Thank goodness we had the South Africa equivalent of potato chips to sustain our nervous munching.

Ironically, it was the safety system of our car that failed. The battery for the anti-theft mechanism had seen its last day of voltage, and without it, the car refused to go anywhere. After about an hour of waiting amidst grass taller than the car, some friendly people pulled up- and they just happened to have a similar battery as ours. We borrowed the battery to start the car and decided to abandon further wildlife viewing in preference to finding a new battery- without a new battery we didn’t dare to shut the engine off again.

However, passing a big market place in Hartbeesport on the way back to Johannesburg, with row upon row of handmade crafts, we decided to take our chances and pull over. But that’s another story altogether.

Copyright © Jonas Persson 2005